5 Incredible Stories of Medal of Valor Recipients

What does it take to be granted the Medal of Valor? Here are the stories of 5 officers and their acts of bravery that earned them this prestigious award.

You may already know that before the year 2000, there was no federal award in the USA to specifically acknowledge the bravery of public safety officers. 

While police and fire departments recognized the actions of their officers at local and state levels, there was no formal country-wide recognition for acts of extreme bravery. That changed in June 2000, when President Bill Clinton established the Medal of Valor. It was designed to be the highest decoration for public safety officers, the equivalent of the US military’s Medal of Honor. The decoration is awarded by the President in the name of the United States Congress, and has to date been awarded to 108 recipients.

The back of the medal quite simply states: “For Extraordinary Valor Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty”. But what does it take to be granted the Medal of Valor? Here are the stories of 5 officers and their acts of bravery that earned them this prestigious award. 

KEITH BORDERS

One of the first recipients of the award was Officer Keith Borders

In April 2001, he responded to a domestic disturbance call. Upon arrival he found a man and his girlfriend arguing in front of their house. 

When Officer Borders intercepted the couple, the man retreated into his house. Concerned for the woman’s safety, the officer placed the woman behind his police cruiser. 

His concern was proven to be well founded: the boyfriend reappeared moments later with three weapons – a .38 caliber revolver, a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, and a .12 gauge pump-action shotgun – and began to open fire at them both. 

As the two men exchanged fire, Officer Borders was struck in the head by some pellets from a shotgun blast. Despite suffering severe blood loss he fought on while simultaneously keeping the woman safe behind the patrol car. Borders survived, killing the man but saving the woman’s life. 

It was Officer Borders’ third time being shot in the line of duty and he still has four shotgun pellets in his head from the incident.

Hand shooting gun

MARCUS YOUNG

Another amazing tale of bravery is that of Police Sergeant Marcus Young (Ukiah, California), who responded to a reported shoplifting at a local Walmart along with a 17-year-old cadet.

As Sergeant Young was arresting the shoplifter, her boyfriend approached them both with his hands in his pockets. When Sergeant Young told the man to remove his hands from his pockets he pulled out a knife. Young grabbed the man’s arm, which prompted him to pull out a .38 Smith & Wesson from his jacket and shoot the sergeant five times in both his face and body.

Sergeant Young was severely wounded and unable to fight back. The shots had paralyzed his right arm and his left hand was almost cut in half. “I thought the entire time that I was going to die,” he said after the incident. But his attacker wasn’t done. He proceeded to stab a security guard and run toward the patrol car, where Young knew there was a shotgun and rifle.

Despite his severe wounds, Sergeant Young knew he had to act. 

Young managed to call the police cadet who was in the car. He asked him to unholster the pistol and place it in his damaged left hand. Young then managed to fire four rounds at the assailant, dropping him before he could reach the firearms. Sergeant Young survived his wounds and was awarded the Medal of Valor from President George W. Bush in 2004.

PEDRO GARCIA III

In September 2008, Officer Pedro Garcia III (San Antonio, TX) and his partner responded to an “officer in trouble” call. 

Three other patrol division officers had earlier approached a house to serve a felony warrant and had come under fire. One of the officers was already wounded and trapped in the house when Officer Garcia and his partner arrived on the scene.

Officer Garcia quickly formulated a plan to extract the wounded officer. As he entered the house to find her, Garcia was hit in the face by either a bullet or a bullet fragment. Reaching the officer, Garcia managed to pull her into the backyard of the house. This meant that the two of them were now trapped, unable to reach the street without putting themselves back into the line of fire.

Officer Garcia then directed one of the other officers to break through the backyard fence with his patrol car. While the gunfire in the house continued, Officer Garcia carried the wounded officer into the patrol car and drove her down the street to a waiting EMS unit. He then returned to help his fellow officers until a SWAT team could arrive and relieve them.

Gun evidence

DAVID HUFF

In the parking lot of a grocery store in Oklahoma, a man held a 2-year-old girl at knifepoint. 

The man had been recently released from a Texas prison, and had grabbed the girl at random, snatching her from where she sat in her mother’s shopping cart.As he held a 5-inch knife to her throat, he demanded that her terrified mother call the police. He said he wanted to speak to a particular officer based all the way in Dallas, Texas.

When the emergency call went out, all available police officers in the area responded to the call. Thankfully, one of them was Major David Huff of the Midwest City Police Department. Major Huff was a 20-year police officer and trained hostage negotiator. 

When he arrived on the scene, a tense half-hour long negotiation began between Huff and the man. Whenever Major Huff suggested releasing the girl, the man grew increasingly agitated. He held the knife to the small child’s throat throughout.

A SWAT team had arrived but they were not yet in position and the man was becoming increasingly erratic. 

He finally told Major Huff that he had 60 seconds to comply with his demands or he’d cut the little girl. He started counting down from 60. “There was no way I was going to let that child get hurt,” Major Huff would later say. He swiftly moved forwards and shot the man in the head at point-blank range. The man was killed instantly and Major Huff was able to move the little girl to safety.

ANDREW HOPFENSPERGER JR.

In April 2016, Officer Andrew Hopfensperger Jr. (Antigo Police Department, Wisconsin) was on his regular foot patrol in the parking lot of Antigo High School during its junior prom. He and another officer were checking cars, looking in windows and using a K9 police dog to sniff for illegal substances. At around 11 p.m. the officers heard gunshots. “I’ve been around firearms most of my life, but the second I heard that, I thought it was fireworks, but something didn’t sound right,” Officer Hopfensperger said later.

In fact, a gunman had fired 10 rounds from a semi-automatic rifle at four students who were exiting the prom, hitting two of them in the legs. Officer Hopfensperger drew his handgun and ran towards the sound of the gunshots. There, he saw two students on the ground with the other two students trying to help them. The students were unsure what had happened and had their backs to the approaching gunman, whose rifle was still aimed at them.

Officer Hopfensperger shouted to draw the attention of the gunman, who turned and pointed his rifle at the approaching officer. Hopfensperger then fired at the man, hitting him three times. The gunman went down; after handcuffing him, Hopfensperger tried to apply lifesaving measures, but the shots turned out to be fatal and the gunman succumbed to his wounds. 

Less than twenty seconds had passed between the first gunshot and Hopfensperger stopping the gunman. As well as the four students who were outside, there were 109 students and staff inside who had successfully been protected by Officer Hopfensperger’s swift actions.

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